More States Move To Address Problems With Medicare Drug Benefit
At least six states have begun to temporarily cover prescription drug costs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries who have reported problems with access to medications under the new prescription drug benefit, and several others might take similar action, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Freking, AP/Boston Globe, 1/10).
Complaints from some state officials, patient advocates and pharmacists indicate a number of problems related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and North Dakota previously announced temporary programs to cover prescription drug costs for Medicare low-income beneficiaries until CMS resolves the problems (California Healthline, 1/9).
Massachusetts has announced a similar program. New Hampshire lawmakers on Tuesday authorized as much as $500,000 in state spending to provide low-income Medicare beneficiaries who have problems with 10-day supplies of treatments.
In addition, South Dakota on Monday announced plans to provide a 30-day supply of medications to dual-eligibles in the state who have problems with access to medications, and New Jersey officials on Tuesday said that the state has spent $4.4 million on prescription drugs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries who have problems.
In Arizona, state officials this week have begun to meet with officials from CMS and private health insurers to address concerns about 20,000 state residents who the agency failed to automatically enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan.
According to the AP/Boston Globe, other states -- such as Florida, Georgia and Wyoming -- have reported few problems with the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
CMS spokesperson Gary Karr said, "While there are reports of problems in some states, in many states there appear to be no problems." He added that the federal government has no mechanism in place to repay states that have begun to temporarily cover prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries (AP/Boston Globe, 1/10).
CMS will extend until Dec. 31 the enrollment deadline for the Medicare prescription drug benefit for Louisiana hurricane evacuees because many likely did not receive notification, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The regular deadline for enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit without financial penalty is May 15.
According to the Times-Picayune, many of the 93,500 dual eligibles in Louisiana and 63,000 other low-income Medicare beneficiaries in the state were automatically enrolled in the prescription drug benefit and were notified by mail in late December. However, state officials said that many hurricane evacuees did not receive such notification.
In addition, the state guidebooks mailed to Louisiana Medicare beneficiaries last fall likely did not reach many hurricane evacuees (Walsh/Moller, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 1/11).
Although a "worrisome number of seniors are having a difficult time getting vital medications under the program," it "appears low-income seniors and disabled people known as 'dual-eligibles' ... are disproportionately having problems," a Los Angeles Times editorial states. According to the editorial, "What is most frustrating is that there was ample warning about potential problems," and "people on both ends of the political spectrum worried that starting the plan now was overly ambitious," but "the administration insisted it begin in an election year."
The editorial adds, "[w]hat's important now is to solve the mess at hand," rather than engage in "finger-pointing." The editorial suggests that a private insurer could temporarily cover beneficiaries who have trouble obtaining their medications (Los Angeles Times, 1/11).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on some problems Medicare beneficiaries have had with access to medications under the prescription drug benefit. The segment includes comments from:
- Stephanie Altman, staff attorney with Health and Disability Advocates;
- Tom Clark, director of policy and advocacy at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists;
- Susan Flippin, staff member at the Peninsula Community Mental Health Center; and
- CMS Administrator Mark McClellan (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/11).